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Big Blur For Small Wheels

April 22, 2001|PHIL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For 14-year-old Tyler Webb, an A in math equals 12 exhilarating minutes at the wheel of a high-performance go-cart at Dromo One racetrack in Orange.

"It feels like you're flying," said the Yorba Linda teen, whose dad brought him on a recent Saturday as a reward for good grades. "You feel pretty much in control. It's fun going into the turns."

Dromo One (1431 N. Main St., [714] 744-4779; open Monday-Thursday 1-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 1-11 p.m. and Sunday 1-9 p.m.) is no putt-putt place. The indoor track, complete with tight "S" turns and a hairpin curve, is straight out of a grand prix race. And the 200cc Honda "racing machines" hit 35 mph on a straightaway. Drivers must wear helmets and neck braces.

"This is real wheel-to-wheel racing," owner Larry Putnam said. It takes actual skill and finesse to get around the track. I know when people hear 'go-carts' they think of children, but this is really competitive. On the weekend, things get pretty aggressive."

It costs $20 for 12 minutes on the track. That includes all the equipment (helmet, racing suit and neck brace), a crash course in cart racing, and a six-lap qualifying run in which drivers jockey for pole position. Then it's an all-out battle for the checkered flag.

The top racers are often twentysomethings with peak reflexes and just the right amount of weight to make the cart stick to the track without slowing it down. But the races are equally satisfying to teens such as Tyler (who held his own in a pack of nine racers) and, especially, to insurance executives such as his dad, John Webb.

Webb discovered Dromo One with his son but soon brought back his State Farm sales team for an afternoon getaway. Turns out a no-holds-barred race is an excellent team-building tool.

"I gave everybody a chance to race against the old man to see how they could do," Webb said. "They finished it off by running me into the wall. They really had a ball."

Twelve minutes on the track is immensely satisfying, but not nearly enough. Putnam attracts regulars who spend hours shaving tenths of a second off their best lap times. A dashboard display shows race position, lap time, elapsed time and the number of seconds between the driver and the race leader.

The best drivers, the ones who will race in the Dromo One Grand Prix on Tuesday, run the 1,000-foot course in about 25 seconds. But even Tyler, a rookie, scored a respectable 29.4 seconds.

"We try to make everything even," Putnam said. "The carts are relatively equal. It comes down to skill and that's what it's all about.

After the Race

There are quite a few dining places in the area, which is less than a mile from the Pond and Edison Field in Anaheim. But racing is best discussed over beer, so the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (1623 W. Katella Ave., [714] 288-0115; open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., midnight on weekends) wins this heat.

A 16-ounce Biersch micro brew costs $4. This is beer lovers' beer, so don't expect fruity flavors like raspberry or mango. The brewery sticks to a strict German purity code called Reinheitsgebot, which allows only four ingredients in beer: barley, hops, water and yeast.

The brewery has a full bar, so tastes that do not fall with the confines of a rigid German beer code are easily accommodated. On a recent Saturday, the bartender claimed to make the best margaritas in town and it was hard to argue.

The restaurant's diverse menu ranges from burgers (ridiculously large) and sandwiches to a Louisiana-style Cajun sausage, shrimp and fettuccine dish that, at $12.95, is the most expensive item on the menu.

Cars and More

Across the courtyard from the brewery, the Garage provides a perfect end to an afternoon homage to horsepower. It's basically the cleanest (and priciest) used car lot you'll ever visit.

The Garage (1547 W. Katella Ave., [714] 532-2290; open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.) specializes in restored classic cars and hot rods. The building is a shrine to a past when both gas pumps and cars had sleek curves. Manager Alan Boyd calls it "an old garage from days gone by," but with stickers exceeding $17,000 on most cars, the prices are very 21st century.

Some of the decor is also for sale: An old jukebox sells for $5,895. Of course, the business attracts more dreamers than buyers.

"People walk up and they'll stand in front of a car for two or three minutes, not moving, you can tell they're just going back in time," Boyd said.

The cars are dreamy. The hot rods are straight out of "American Graffiti." Fixer-uppers are not allowed. Most cars look as if they've just been driven off the showroom floor in 1931 or 1947 or 1963.

A Pontiac Grand Prix Sports Coupe still has the invoice. Back in March 1963, the maroon convertible with fire-engine red seats cost $4,819.84. Fully restored, it goes for $16,500. Boyd throws in the old-school sales talk for free.

"Original 31,000 miles," he says. "Yep. If you wanna poke your head in there, you'll see how clean it is."

IF YOU GO

* Directions

Take the Orange Freeway to Katella Avenue. Exit and go east to Main Street, then go north.

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